Specific Legacy

Specific Legacy
Specific Legacy
Full Overview Of Specific Legacy

Probate is a complex legal process that involves administering the estate of a deceased person to ensure that their wishes, as expressed in their will, are fulfilled. A crucial part of the will is the distribution of specific legacies. As specialists in probate law, DLS solicitors comprehensively understand the intricacies of this area of estate administration. This overview aims to provide a thorough understanding of specific legacies, their significance, and how they are managed within the probate process.

Definition of Specific Legacy

A specific legacy, also known as a specific bequest, is a gift of a particular item or specific asset to a named beneficiary in a will. This type of legacy is distinct from other forms, such as general legacies (monetary sums), residuary legacies (the remainder of the estate after all other gifts are distributed), and demonstrative legacies (monetary gifts from a particular source). Specific legacies can include tangible items like jewellery, art, cars, or real estate, as well as intangible assets like shares in a company or intellectual property rights.

Importance of Specific Legacies

Specific legacies hold significant importance in the administration of an estate for several reasons:

  1. Clarity of Intentions: Specific legacies clearly outline the testator’s (the person who has made the will) intentions regarding particular assets. This clarity helps avoid disputes among beneficiaries and ensures that the testator’s wishes are carried out precisely.
  2. Emotional Value: Often, specific legacies have sentimental value attached to them. For instance, a family heirloom passed down through generations may carry more emotional significance than its monetary value.
  3. Fair Distribution: By assigning specific assets to certain beneficiaries, testators can ensure a fair distribution of their estate. This can be particularly useful in blended families or complex family situations where equitable treatment of all parties is essential.
  4. Tax Efficiency: In some cases, specific legacies can be structured to achieve tax efficiency, benefiting both the estate and the beneficiaries. However, this requires careful planning and consideration of the current tax laws.

Drafting Specific Legacies

Drafting specific legacies requires precision and clarity to avoid ambiguity and potential disputes. Here are some key considerations when drafting specific legacies:

  1. Detailed Description: The specific asset should be described in detail to ensure there is no confusion. For example, instead of simply stating “my car,” the will should specify “my 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with registration number ABC123.”
  2. Contingency Planning: The will should include provisions for what should happen if the specified asset is no longer part of the estate at the time of death. This can prevent legal complications and disputes among beneficiaries.
  3. Current Ownership: It is crucial to ensure that the testator owns the asset outright and that it is not subject to any encumbrances or joint ownership issues that could complicate the transfer.
  4. Valuation: In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an estimated value of the specific legacy, especially if it has significant financial worth. This can help in the overall estate planning and distribution process.

Administering Specific Legacies

Once the testator has passed away, the process of administering specific legacies begins. This involves several steps:

  1. Identifying the Assets: The executor of the will must locate and identify all the assets specified in the legacies. This can involve searching through personal records, consulting financial institutions, and sometimes even legal proceedings to establish ownership.
  2. Valuing the Assets: In some cases, it may be necessary to have the specific assets professionally valued to ensure their accurate distribution and for tax purposes. This is particularly important for high-value items like real estate or valuable collections.
  3. Transferring Ownership: The legal ownership of the specified assets must be transferred to the named beneficiaries. This can involve changing the title deeds for property, re-registering shares, or simply handing over physical items.
  4. Addressing Encumbrances: If the specific asset is subject to any debts or encumbrances, these must be settled before the asset can be transferred. For instance, if a property is mortgaged, the mortgage must be paid off from the estate, or arrangements made for its continuation by the beneficiary.

Common Challenges with Specific Legacies

Administering specific legacies can present several challenges:

  1. Asset Disposal Before Death: If the testator disposes of the asset before their death without updating the will, the specific legacy may fail. This situation, known as ademption, can lead to disputes among beneficiaries.
  2. Discrepancies in Asset Description: Ambiguities or errors in describing the specific asset can lead to disputes and complications. For example, if multiple items fit the description provided in the will, it can be unclear which one is meant for the beneficiary.
  3. Changes in Asset Value: Significant changes in the value of the specific asset between the time the will was drafted and the testator’s death can impact the estate’s distribution and potentially cause disputes among beneficiaries.
  4. Encumbrances and Liabilities: If the specific asset carries encumbrances or liabilities, these must be resolved, which can complicate the administration process and affect the value received by the beneficiary.

Understanding the legal framework and relevant case law surrounding specific legacies is crucial for effective estate administration. Here are some notable points and cases:

  1. Ademption: The principle of ademption states that if a specific legacy is not part of the estate at the time of the testator’s death, the legacy fails. This was highlighted in the case of Re Slater (1907), where the court ruled that a specific bequest of shares failed because the testator had sold the shares before death.
  2. Mistakes and Ambiguities: Courts can interpret and rectify mistakes or ambiguities in a will. In Re Steele’s Will Trusts (1948), the court held that extrinsic evidence could be used to clarify an ambiguity in a specific legacy of a painting.
  3. Beneficiary Rights: Beneficiaries of specific legacies have the right to receive the asset as specified in the will. However, they may also have responsibilities, such as settling any outstanding encumbrances on the asset. The case of Re Berkeley (1951) illustrated the principle that a specific legatee must bear any expenses related to the legacy unless the will provides otherwise.

Practical Advice for Executors and Beneficiaries

For executors and beneficiaries involved in the administration of specific legacies, here are some practical tips:

  1. Communication: Maintain clear and open communication with all parties involved. This helps manage expectations and can prevent disputes.
  2. Professional Assistance: Engage professionals such as solicitors, valuers, and accountants to assist in the accurate administration of the specific legacies. Their expertise can help navigate complex issues and ensure compliance with legal requirements.
  3. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all actions taken during the administration process. This includes correspondence, valuations, and transactions related to the specific legacies.
  4. Review and Update the Will: Regularly review and update the will to reflect any changes in circumstances, such as the disposal of assets or changes in their value. This can prevent complications and ensure the testator’s wishes are accurately fulfilled.


DLS Solicitors specialises in probate law, including the administration of specific legacies. These legacies are important in estate planning as they allow individuals to designate particular assets to specific beneficiaries. Administering these legacies can be complex, requiring attention to detail, legal expertise, and professional knowledge.

Our team is committed to providing comprehensive guidance and support to our clients in all aspects of specific legacies. Whether you are creating a will, serving as an executor, or are a beneficiary, we are here to help every step of the way. We understand the emotional and practical challenges involved and are dedicated to ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are honoured with integrity and precision.

With our expertise in managing specific legacies, we aim to facilitate a smooth and fair distribution of the estate, bringing peace of mind to all involved parties.

Specific Legacy FAQ'S

A specific legacy is a gift of a particular item or specific piece of property to a named beneficiary in a Will. Examples include a specific amount of money, a piece of jewellery, or a particular piece of real estate.

A specific legacy refers to a particular item or piece of property, whereas a general legacy refers to a gift of money or other assets not tied to a specific item, such as a sum of money to be paid from the general assets of the estate.

If the specific item is no longer part of the estate at the time of the testator’s death, the specific legacy usually fails, or “adeems.” The beneficiary does not receive a replacement or compensation unless the will specifies otherwise.

Yes, a specific legacy can include digital assets such as digital currency, online accounts, or digital media. The will should clearly describe the digital asset and provide instructions for its transfer.

During probate, the executor identifies and locates the specific items bequeathed as specific legacies and arranges for their transfer to the named beneficiaries, ensuring that all debts and taxes are paid first.

If there is a dispute over the value or identification of a specific legacy, the executor may need to seek a professional valuation or legal advice to resolve the issue. In some cases, the matter may need to be settled in court.

Yes, a beneficiary can refuse or disclaim a specific legacy. The item would then fall back into the residuary estate and be distributed according to the terms of the Will or the rules of intestacy.

Specific legacies are generally paid out before general and residuary legacies. However, all debts, taxes, and expenses must be settled before any legacies are distributed.

Yes, a specific legacy can be subject to conditions set out in the Will. For example, the testator might specify that the beneficiary must reach a certain age or fulfill certain criteria before receiving the legacy.

If a specific legacy beneficiary predeceases the testator, the specific legacy typically lapses and falls into the residuary estate, unless the Will specifies an alternate beneficiary or includes a survivorship clause.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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